"Learning Points 2..."

Frequently Asked Questions.

Or put another way... questions I have been asked by Observers and Candidates.  Questions shown in blue.

Positioning when confronted with oncoming traffic
Positioning in town
"Lifesavers" & Rear Ob's
Straight lining Roundabouts

Positioning on the open road when confronted with oncoming traffic on the opposite carriageway.

"Apart from giving large vehicles plenty of space, the examiner questioned the associates’ movement across his lane, away from oncoming cars. The associate tells me that he was crossing the "grease line" to give himself more space between him and the oncoming vehicles – as he has been asked to do by the observers.  I am unclear as to whether the examiner was referring to the amount of movement across the carriageway or the very fact that the associate was moving away from the oncoming vehicles!"

I had this with a candidate the other week.  He was moving from the offside wheel track of the cars/trucks to the nearside when vehicles were approaching on the opposite side of the road.  I commended him for noting the potential danger and moving away from it, then I suggested to him that in his efforts to put some distance between his bike and a potential danger he was in fact leaving a clean & dry section of the road to cross over a wet and potentially greasy area, to run in a wet/damp area on the nearside.  I discussed the meaning of the “safety” position to make sure he understood it is the safest position for the machine to be in, in relation to the actual and potential dangers.  So whilst there was the potential danger of the oncoming traffic there was also the potential danger, if not actually danger, of moving from a clean/dry section of the carriageway, across a potentially greasy area then to run in an area that was actually damp/wet.

Whilst I was happy enough to “pass” the candidate he did take on board my comments about the risks involved, associated with his attempts to reduce his exposure to danger.  Suffice it to say one must have due regards to the nature, condition and use of the roadway and it becomes a judgment call as to whether the greatest risk is a) remaining in the offside wheel track, a tad closer to oncoming vehicles or b) changing course on a slippery surface then running on a surface with reduced available grip due to the surface conditions.

I was not there so I cannot really comment on where the greater danger would have been, but this is a real life situation and Roadcraft is quite clear that we base our riding plans and decision on what we can see, what we can’t see and what we can reasonably expect to develop.  The System is flexible if it is used correctly and the candidate should position to be in the safest position at all times…. What exactly is the safest position depends on so many circumstances I cannot really give a hard and fast rule.  So everyone was correct… or was everyone wrong?  We need to be THINKING Riders.


Positioning in town.

"One of the examiners this groups' motorcycling associates sees for test recommends that in town, you maintain your position in the centre of your side of the carriageway (normal exceptions accepted).  The other examiner advised our latest test applicant he should stay in the "swept area" of the carriageway when traveling through built up areas."

See above re’ “safety” position.  Generally one should equalise the dangers by sitting in the middle of them - midway between nearside kerb or parked car etc. and the centre of the road.  However the road surface conditions again play an important part, so being in “swept area” also has its merits.  Similarly do I alter course to avoid “white paint” carriageway markings because they are slippery or do I intentionally ride over these markings, but in a straight line without a course change????  There cannot be a definitive answer to these or similar questions. One has to assess each "hazard" and decide, in relation to actual and potential dangers, where the safest position/course is.  This is why we have Observers so that a wide variety of situations can be tackled, discussed and weighed up with associates.  Trying to do it all from a book or set of notes would not work.  We need to be THINKING Riders.


"Lifesavers" & Rear Observations.

LIFESAVERS…  Advanced Riding is based on driving one’s bike, SAFELY, SMOOTHLY, PROGRESSIVELY & WELL.  More or less that’s what the IAM encapsulate in their “S’s” (see HERE).  So the most important aspect is Safety, let’s not forget that. 

Well this is where we have to think about which book we are referring to.  The IAM's publication "How to be a Better Rider" is excellent and introduces the concept of the "Blind Spot Check" (p31).  Basically Rear Observation is a generic term relating to any rearwards observation either using the mirrors or actually looking.  A "Blind Spot Check" does exactly what it says... it's an actual look by turning one's head to eliminate a blind spot not covered by the mirrors.  The Blind Spot Check, complements good use of mirrors and does not replace the mirrors.

Now if you want to start talking Roadcraft then we have to be careful about the use of the word "Lifesaver."  The Lifesaver was feature 6 in the original "System" and was described as "A last look behind before deviating."  The current edition of Roadcraft tells us (p31) "The Lifesaver is a last look over the shoulder into the blind spots to make sure nothing unexpected is happening before committing yourself to a manoeuvre.  If you are turning, use it to check the blind spots on the side to which you intend to turn.  The place for the lifesaver is just before the first part of the acceleration phase."

"What were you taught for..."  well firstly remember that my initial Advanced Driver / Rider training took place in the first half of the 80's and things have changed a wee bit since then.   The roads are a lot busier bike technology has advanced, revised Roadcraft manual etc. but I still believe things are as relevant today and changes have been minor.  If you look at the System in the '78 Roadcraft (p 2 & 3) and compare it with latest edition p30 - 34... they are basically the same,  But the new model has p34 setting out that one should use the system flexibly... this was always implied in the original 7 featured system via "...every feature is considered at the approach to any hazard.  Only those applicable to the particular circumstances are put in to operation but whichever features are selected must always be in the correct sequence."  Whereas now the same meaning is given a page of its own and a bold title.

"Routine observation ( ?  mirror check)"  yes, both mirrors

"Change in road position /Change in speed (? mirror & shoulder check - in direction of movement or right if accelerating)" yes, both mirrors *

"Starting off  (? mirrors & shoulders' check on both sides)"   yes, both mirrors *

"Turn left /right; Enter/exit roundabout; Lifesaver (but at low speed observations)"  if I can refer to the traditional 7 features this would be at F 6, in other words after the rear observations at features 1, 2 & 4.  Look at the new Roadcraft p 31 "...Use your judgment about when to use it: in congested urban situations a lifesaver is normally essential, especially when turning right into a minor road, but during high speed overtaking, when you are certain what is happening behind, it is often safer to keep your eyes on what is happening ahead."  

"Am I wrong?"  I do not think so

"Does Roadcraft make a distinction?"  See current edition p 45 Rear Observations 

"Does it matter if you are aware of what is happening behind?"  Basically we have a number of methods of obtaining the required information (what is behind us).  In some circumstances the mirrors alone will be more than adequate to allow us to get the information, in others a wee glance to the side will complement the mirror view and in other circumstances we will need to have a good look. Generally the good look around will be at low speeds.  The p 45 entry refers us to the p 31  and so on.  Quite rightly Roadcraft does not tell you what to do in every specific circumstance i.e. "leaving Tesco's car park one should... etc."  However it gives us guidance and a set of tools we can use to obtain the results... per the system.  BUT for IAM its best to set things out for others to learn... once they have learned the application of the system, they will be better versed in how to apply it to suit each change in circumstances.  Teaching folk to walk before they can run ???

My personal slant on things...

When I am traveling forward I am more concerned about looking where I am going so I spend most time looking forward and to the sides to see what might cause me a problem.  I also want to be aware of what could be approaching me from behind.  Generally, although this might seem anomalous, this concern increases the slower I drive as more vehicles could be travelling faster than me, gaining on me or even overtaking me.  No matter how fast I drive there will always be someone faster (ever driven on the derestricted sections of the German Autobahn!!!).  This reaches its climax when I am almost stationary in the town, about to turn right... hence the lifesaver.

See * above:
I am happy with the mirrors on my bike, but am aware that even with the best set up there can be small blind spots.  So,
if I have any doubts, I back up the rear observations in the mirrors, with a "Blind Spot Check."  The "Blind Spot Check" could be anything from wee glance to the side (if I am moving to one side or another... to check the space I want to occupy is actually free and not about to be filled by another road user) to a traditional "Lifesaver".


Some supplemental comments taken from a discussion with my colleague Jon Taylor (fellow IAM Staff Bike Examiner - see Jon's web site HERE):-


"The key is to get riders to think for themselves then hopefully they can sort out ANY situation using that same logic.

Concerning Lifesavers, I'd answer those questions the same way as you did for the Position questions, and also as it describes in Roadcraft. ‘CONSIDER a Lifesaver where appropriate’. So the example of pulling away wouldn't automatically need a Lifesaver from me, and nor would turning.

To give a couple of examples. You've filtered between some queues of traffic (traffic = several vehicles on the road at the same time, we get it quite a lot down here [you will have guessed Jon works around London and the Southern parts of England] and you're about to move off. You know there's a white Transit van to one side of you and a Ford Mondeo on the other, you can also hear their engines ticking over. There's physically no space for anything else to be there so do you REALLY need to check they are still there! If a rider did so in circumstances where there couldn't actually be anything there, such as above, or say when up against a wall, kerb, barrier or similar, I'd consider that rider to be riding automatically and not actually thinking about each situation on its relative merits.

Or, say when a rider is waiting to turn right into a side turning and he/she intends to do so immediately after an oncoming vehicle has passed. If there is insufficient room for anything to be between you and the oncoming vehicle then the thinking rider wouldn't need to carry out a Lifesaver. The rider doing things automatically would however. This is all I.M.H.O. I hasten to add.

When I see riders carry out Lifesavers when actually needed, yet not do them when not needed they very much go up in my estimation because to me it shows that they are taking the ‘Information’ and actually using it in their plan. Also, many riders do their head checks so quickly I don't believe they would actually be able to see anything if it was there, they're just 'ticking the box' so to speak. [Remember the difference between "looking" and "seeing."] The D.S.A. in my opinion insists on them for a reason, they're dealing on the whole with inexperienced riders who, as the description suggests, are unlikely to possess the necessary experience on which to base a sound judgement. On the other hand WE [the examiners] are looking at supposedly ‘Advanced’ riders who should be able to make such a decision based on the circumstances around them.

So once again, I go straight back to Roadcraft – "Consider a Lifesaver where appropriate" [Motorcycle Roadcraft pages 31 & 33]- full stop. That means riders need to think about each and every situation as it arises."



Straight lining Roundabouts

"Had a call from a member of the local group who has heard 'through the grapevine' from some forum that there is to be a change on test procedures at roundabouts. The suggestion is that 'straight lining' through lanes when safe to do so is to be stopped and the DSA method of sticking to lanes is to be utilised.  Can you confirm if there is any change afoot?"

Basically there is no change to the IAM test and provided the circumstances are appropriate and safe, straight lining is permitted… in fact when circumstances permit the Advanced Motorcyclist should be taking the shortest route between entrance and exit.  However I would still caution Observers so they advise “The route through the roundabout will depend on the presence of other traffic and on the road surface” and against straight lining unless it is safe and appropriate.


Some supplemental comments taken from a discussion with  Jon Taylor (see Jon's web site HERE):-

"I believe this has been covered before and I think the general view was that Roadcraft covers it perfectly under 'Position' on page 37.

"The route through the roundabout will depend on the presence of other traffic, and on the road surface. The best route is generally the shortest route between entry and exit."

For me that's a categorical endorsement of 'straight lining' roundabouts unless such a course would bring you into conflict with other traffic.  Once again for me that has the advantage that the machine is more upright, there is less likelihood that any vehicle approaching the roundabout may think you are taking an earlier exit, in the event of a vehicle entering the roundabout unexpectedly you will be further from it and you are further away from the most likely line for diesel (the outside).

In the early stages of training Associates tend to take one aspect and forget all the rest, and that's where good instruction is essential I.M.H.O.  Observers are, in effect, UNPACKAGING Roadcraft so that it is more readily understood and we [the Examiners], in testing riders, are checking that it is properly understood and implemented."



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